Bad timing. Less than 120 days before the Tokyo Games, a new doping case is enveloping cycling. It concerns Great Britain, one of the dominant nations in the discipline. And casts serious doubt, in retrospect, on their performance at the London Games in 2012.
Following the revelations of the London daily Mail on Sunday on Sunday, March 28th, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) confirmed that it had opened an investigation into the British Anti-Doping Agency (UKAD). The latter is said to have allowed British Cycling, the British Cycling Federation, to conduct its own private tests after the discovery of traces of nandrolone, an anabolic steroid, in a sample of one of its riders.
The sample in question was taken during an out-of-competition test carried out at the end of 2010. According to the Mail on Sunday, it contained an abnormal level of nandrolone.
At this stage, nothing very conclusive. Nandrolone is considered a “threshold substance“, meaning that the amount found in a sample must be greater than a certain level to justify a possible sanction from an anti-doping organisation. As an added bonus, the anomaly in the sample numbers could very well be due to a medical problem.
The problem is elsewhere. It lies in the process. Instead of carrying out the investigation itself, as stipulated in the World Anti-Doping Code, UKAD alerted British Cycling. Worse, they gave them carte blanche to work alone on the issue, even calling on private laboratories not accredited by WADA. A decision totally contrary to international anti-doping regulations.
The British team before the London Games had a strong Sky Team accent. David Brailsford, who in 2010 became manager of new professional training in the United Kingdom, was then performance director for British Cycling. Since then, he has been singled out in March 2018 by a report from the British Parliament accusing him of covering up doping practices.
Doctor Richard Freeman, recently implicated in a doping scandal and expelled on March 19th from the Order of Physicians, worked for his part in the medical cell.
As a reminder, Great Britain won 12 medals, including 8 gold, in the cycling events at the London Games in 2012.
At this stage of the case, WADA is playing it safe. “We have asked our independent intelligence and investigation department to look into this matter and contact UKAD for further information“, the court said soberly.
The British Anti-Doping Agency (UKAD), meanwhile, said on Sunday, March 28th, that it would work with WADA to provide more information. “UKAD is currently reviewing its records to verify whether the decisions made in 2011 (on the sample with the abnormal nandrolone level) followed due process set out by WADA“, its spokesperson said in a statement.
As for British Cycling, they have chosen a rather unconvincing line of defense: the wear and tear of time. “We are unable to provide a full commentary on this matter at this stage of the investigation, as the events took place over 10 years ago. And all members of the management team involved have been out of work for British Cycling for some time”, the UK body said in a statement.
The British Cycling Federation adds: “We are currently reviewing archived documents from this time. The process is neither simple nor quick, but we will share the results with the parties concerned”.